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New study reveals unexpected factor that can lead to concerning weight gain in young children — here's what we know

In the United States, childhood obesity is already a major concern.

In the United States, childhood obesity is already a major concern.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has found a troubling factor that may be impacting children's weight gain.

What happened?

As detailed by News Medical, an experiment in Catalonia discovered that children who moved to areas with more air pollution experienced a small increase in their body mass indexes, with younger school-age children more significantly impacted. 

"A good way to investigate whether the two are linked is to see what happens when a child is suddenly exposed to higher or lower levels of air pollution as a result of moving to a different home address. This is what we call a natural experiment," said Martine Vrijheid, ISGlobal's head of the Childhood and Environment research group. 

Researchers are unsure exactly why high levels of air pollution have been linked to weight gain, but reduced lung function, changes in hormones and metabolism, and inflammation of fatty tissue are believed to be some of the contributing elements, as well as more time spent indoors. 

Why is this concerning?

The authors of the latest study believe that their findings may have significant implications for public health, as nearly 60% of the global population resides in urban areas — which are generally more polluted. 

In the United States, childhood obesity is already a major concern, with the Mayo Clinic noting it can cause serious and costly health issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. 

That makes it vital to discover solutions to protect more vulnerable members of society, as this isn't the first study that has linked air pollution to negative impacts on childhood health, with the effects of postpartum depression and decreased attendance at school among the concerns. 

In 2018, the World Health Organization cautioned that nine out of 10 people were breathing air with "high levels of pollutants," leading to an estimated seven million deaths due to exposure to fine particles. In 2022, it warned that 99% of people were breathing air that surpassed its quality limits.  

What can be done to help? 

The majority of harmful pollution is generated by dirty energy, such as oil, coal, and gas. The burning of these fuels has also contributed to rising global temperatures, which have caused an increase in extreme weather like wildfires — another type of dangerously polluting event

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to clean up the air in the long run. Participating in a community solar program, transitioning to an electric vehicle, or taking public transportation are all ways to save money long-term while eliminating thousands of pounds of pollution each year. 

In the short term, buying an air purifier can improve indoor air quality. 

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